October 25, 2010
You’ve got to love the French. The nation known for wine, women and song is going bonkers over the prospect of having to work for a living. Mass strikes. Angry picketing. Fuel blockades. The way they’re carrying on over President Sarkozy’s referendum (just passed) to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 years of age, you’d think the Nazis were again marching up the Champs Elysees. (One wonders, where were they the first time?) Sarkozy needs this referendum to save considerable money that would otherwise be paid out in France’s lucrative but archaic pension system. It seems like a reasonable idea, particularly given the global economic crisis. After all, isn’t everyone trying to get work as opposed to getting out of it?
In America, we roll our eyes at France’s seemingly spoiled citizenry, literally and philosophically. Here, most of us have to work until we’re 65 or older, some far longer than that. And unless we work for the government (for shame), it isn’t because we’re trying to qualify for a pension; those rarely exist for us. It’s because we need the income, obviously. But it’s also because we have a seemingly inborn need to be useful and relevant. For Americans, “retirement” means old age and old age means game over. The idea of golfing everyday or playing canasta strikes fear in the hearts of most Americans. At least, if they’re being honest. Even those who dislike their jobs are likely fearful of the alternative.
The French don’t have this “problem.” The idea is to enjoy life to its fullest -Joie de vivre!- And for them that is seldom defined by work. In America we’re always asking each other what we do for a living. The answer defines us. In France, the question is considered mildly off putting, gauche, and even offensive. In the USA a laissez-fair attitude about work is frowned on. Laissez = Lazy. Not so in France.
Do not assume I am on one side of this issue or the other. First of all, my mother was born in France and did not come to America until she was a teen-ager. Believe it or not, I spoke French before learning English. As fate would have it, I also work for a French advertising agency (Euro RSCG), which is owned by a French holding company (Havas). Even my previous employer, Leo Burnett became part of Publicis during my time there. Ergo, I’m pretty damn sympathetic to the cause.
Secondly, and more importantly, even though I define others and myself by their work I’ve lately wondered if that’s a good thing. I’ve discussed this tension over and over on Gods of Advertising. Often the debate centers on being a self-absorbed copywriter/writer versus being a good husband and father.
Had I been raised in France would this even be an issue for me? Were the criteria for being a successful man different would I have different views about working? Maybe I would be a bon vivant, looking forward to a life of leisure as opposed to mildly dreading it.
This week I will be the sole North American judge for the International Advertising Festival in… wait for it: Dubai! The Dubai Lynx is sort of the Middle East’s version of Cannes. I do not know much else about the festival or, for that matter, the region.
What I do know about Dubai is that it is one of the seven emirates that constitute the United Arab Emirates. Now if only I knew what an “emirate” was. I do know it is not a country. I also know that some of the most expansive and over-the-top architecture and developments can be found there, including a real-sized indoor ski slope and a network of man-made islands and resorts. I know this from odd, sensational snippets on travel TV or from the occasional friend of a friend.
In other words, I am completely ignorant of both the event and the place where it’s being held.
I also have no idea how good or bad the region’s advertising is. My guess is they are behind the west in terms of mass media advertising but on par with our digital capabilities. Why? Because there is no middle class. The poor watch TV. The rich surf the Net. Ergo TV commercials are naïve and Web experiences advanced. Again, I’m just guessing. I have no clue.
With this “clarity,” I intend to place my observations here and, hopefully, on a blog for Adweek, which is being worked out.
Won’t you join me? Dubai awaits!
September 14, 2008
In early 2001, I became Chief Creative Officer of a hybrid agency at Leo Burnett called LBWorks. About that time Element 79 began their new agency a few blocks away. Having this in common, I instantly viewed them as competition, two horses in a race. A race to what, I now wonder: more accounts, more awards, more billings? Ego can be a ridiculous thing.
In any event, there we were: options in a town not hard up for more. I think LBWorks began with about 50 or-so people and I imagine E79 did so as well. They had one acclaimed client (Gatorade) and so did we: Altoids. DDB and Omnicom backed E79. LBWorks had Burnett and Publicis. Like I said, lots in common.
We came off the blocks quicker, pulling in four new accounts in less than a year: Lexmark, Earthlink, Storagetek and Gateway. (Two years later LBWorks had a champagne supernova and the dream was over. Undone by our own success. it’s a good story but not for here.)
Slower to grow, Element 79 hung around, always doing exemplary work on Gatorade, gradually picking up business, and eventually becoming a real player in its own right. Creatively, only Nike had a better tagline in the category than Gatorade’s “Is it in you?” E79 possessed a potent offence, run by charismatic Chief Creative Officer, Dennis Ryan.
Not long ago, they beat my current agency, Euro RSCG, in a lengthy, emotionally draining shootout for Harris Bank. We busted our butts on that one and I was positive we’d won. And I was wrong. Element 79 had been a worthy nemesis.
Until, perhaps, now. With flagship Gatorade gone and all of Quaker leaving, it doesn’t look good. Ironically, they still have Harris Bank but you don’t have to be an accountant to know what that bills. Not enough. Not enough to feed the engines that fuel a mid-sized advertising agency like Element 79.
Maybe Element 79 has an ace no one knows about. Will Omnicom aid its wounded sentry? More likely, they will absorb the remaining troops, probably into DDB. And, of course, there will be casualties. The rumors are already out there. But if the end is near, let me be the first to offer salutations: You came. You conquered. You will be remembered well.
Which is better than most. Take the place I work at now. It’s previous incarnation (Euro RSCG Tatham Partners) ingloriously imploded, leaving dark stains in an all but empty building. Very messy.
The fate of Element 79, should it be time to talk of fate, will not be as gruesome. The epilogue favors a sequel, not a finale.